A Family Affair: Couples talk entrepreneurship struggles and successes

Entrepreneurship is at the heart of the American Dream. But starting your own business—and turning it into a successful, lasting operation—is far from easy. And all too often, it can turn into a nightmare. Entrepreneurship takes ‘round-the-clock work and sacrifice, and it’s not just the entrepreneur who pays the price if it doesn’t work out—an entrepreneur’s family goes through the ups and downs, too.

So how can you make it all work? How can you start a business, keep it running smoothly and growing successfully, all while maintaining a happy family and healthy life at home? Is it even possible? Here, three couples discuss the real hardships and sacrifices that entrepreneurship required of their families and, more importantly, how they made it work.

Will and Lisa West

Will West left a lucrative career at Procter & Gamble to chase his entrepreneurial dreams. He co-founded Control4 in 2003, serving as CEO until stepping down in 2013. But the entrepreneurial bug bit again, and he is now co-founder and CEO of SilverVue, a healthcare software company. Though leaving Procter & Gamble seemed like an easy decision to make years ago, there have been plenty of times when both Will and his wife, Lisa, questioned his decision to leave a promising career in lieu of entrepreneurship.

Married for nearly 30 years with six children, the Wests have learned many lessons throughout their entrepreneurial journey. Will credits Lisa for keeping the family together through thick and thin. “I have a wife who is something of a miracle worker. She carries the weight of a family on her shoulders,” he says. “One of my greatest failings is not carrying my load at home. She was effectively a single mom of six kids.”

Lisa cringes when Will calls her a single mom, but acknowledges there were plenty of lonely and difficult times. “He was not around a whole lot, and I couldn’t depend on him for carpool help or even evening help, like getting the kids down. If I had an emergency during the day, I couldn’t call and talk to him. I had to have my own support network that didn’t include him.”

Because Will was at work so much, Lisa says it became a struggle when he was at home. “It was tricky to navigate when he was present. I wanted to try to help him stay close to the kids and them to him, but it took effort,” she says. “He wanted to enjoy the kids when he was home, and I’m the one saying, ‘No, they have to do their homework.’ Resentment built up.”

At times, Lisa felt there was no end in sight and the stress was overwhelming. “When you’re married to an entrepreneur, it’s not like they’re in medical school and you know there’s an end. With entrepreneurship, you could be worse off afterwards. It could be a financial disaster. There are no guarantees.”

Lisa says she learned to focus on her interests. She’s currently studying religious studies at Brigham Young University. She says the struggles she endured turned her into an independent person who can handle just about anything. “I wouldn’t be who I am today without all the [struggles.] Luckily, his work did pay off and we’ve been able to do nice things.”

Will agrees that it was difficult maintaining a healthy balance, but he found ways to connect with Lisa and their children, including having a daily ritual to look forward to. He’d be there for prayers every night and talk with each child about the worst and best parts of their day, as well as their hopes for tomorrow. “They would always end up asking me about my day. I loved that ritual.”

The family also planned an annual vacation with no work-related distractions. “That’s why I love Lake Powell so much—there’s no connectivity,” says Will. “You’re trapped together on a houseboat and it’s just about family time.”

Will and Lisa agree that a strong marriage is essential to getting through the rough times, as well as in maintaining day-to-day happiness. “You have to be super, super, super committed to your marriage. It definitely takes that commitment,” says Lisa.

In the end, it’s all about finding time to spend together, adds Will. “When it comes to family, you really need quantity of time to achieve quality. You never know when those special moments are going to come.”

Paul and Sarah Lehman

Life at home can be especially tricky when both mom and dad are entrepreneurs, which is the case for the Lehman family. Sarah Lehman is the CEO of ENVE Composites, a manufacturer of carbon fiber road and mountain bike rim and wheel systems. Paul Lehman is a partner at New Value Capital, a private equity firm. The two met while students at Harvard Business School and have been married for nearly 20 years. Together, they have three children ages 13 to 7.

With little ones still at home, Paul and Sarah acknowledge that entrepreneurship is coming at a price. “There are some kid activities that you’d love to go to that you end up missing—the big game or a performance,” says Paul. “You just can’t make everything, and you always feel bad about that. We probably don’t know as many parents in the school as we could, because we’re traveling around.

“Every day it’s easy to feel overwhelmed—you don’t realize it at the time,” he adds. “If anybody said how hard it would be, you’d never get out of bed. We take it one day at a time.”

Paul and Sarah agree that they’ve learned many lessons along the way to make surviving the hectic days a bit easier. Supporting each other is at the top of their list. “Every once and awhile Sarah or I will raise our hand and say, ‘Listen, I need a break. Take over this piece or that piece.’ We make it work,” says Paul.

Sarah adds that a strong marriage is vital to a strong family, a lesson she learned early on. “When I went back to work at ENVE, I worked every weekend for the first 16 months and traveled extensively. My husband also owned a business in Texas and traveled quite a bit. We decided that one of us would always be home with the kids while the other traveled. That was great for them, but really hard on us. We both realized that while our kids don’t want us to be away, they are much happier when mom and dad get to spend time together.”

Even though they’ve been at it for a while, entrepreneurship and parenting remains challenging. “I still struggle immensely with transitioning from hard charging CEO mode to mom/wife mode,” says Sarah. “My intensity serves me well professionally, but not so much on the home front. I’ve started doing mediation to help me transition. You can ask my kids and Paul in a few months if it’s working.”

Do they ever think about quitting work? Definitely. “There have been several times where I felt I wanted to quit because it was really hard,” says Sarah. “But I decided that I wouldn’t quit just because the going got tough. I promised myself that if I choose to quit working, it’s because I want to spend time with my kids or prefer doing something else, not because I was in a rut. … Sleep and spending time with my husband and kids usually put it back in perspective. I once had to put myself on a travel moratorium in order to get myself and my family back in sync.”

Sarah and Paul agree that though everyday life gets hectic, the pros still outweigh the cons. “I think that our kids are watching both Sarah and I as we work and realize that they can be whatever they want to be,” says Paul. “I also think that they’re learning that business is not all success. Our kids experience that and learn that it’s good to try and sometimes you don’t achieve. They look at us and say, ‘If they can do it, we can do it.’”

Ken and Crystal Krogue

Ken and Crystal Krogue met while serving missions in South Carolina for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They been married for nearly 30 years and are the parents of four grown children.

Entrepreneurship is nothing new to the Krogue family. Ken was one of the original founders of UCN, now inContact, and has played a role in founding several startups over the years. His latest undertaking is co-founding InsideSales, one of Utah’s most promising tech companies.

But Ken wasn’t the only Krogue who spent years juggling multiple responsibilities. Life at home was demanding and stressful for Crystal. “Being married to an entrepreneur is not easy, and it’s not for everyone, but it can be worth it,” she says.

Crystal recalls many sleepless nights spent caring for sick children by herself, attending school and family events alone, and missing the mundane activities that the traditional 9-to-5 family experiences every day. “Life was busy and it was stressful, but you keep going on, focusing on one day at a time.”

Crystal created a weekly routine and always found something to look forward to, which helped her through the tough, lonely times. “Our Sundays are when we come together as a family, and Ken was always there. That helped give me enough energy and awards to get through the end of the next week.”

As time went on, living the entrepreneur lifestyle didn’t get easier for the Krogues. “It got progressively more difficult,” says Ken. “As success comes, it has a price. I found that I had to get more creative at bringing my family into my world. We would look for events and tradeshows for them to come on. I’d try to fly them out with me to my favorite places.”

Ken also actively worked to find ways to spend time with his children. “I remember my kids just loved videogames. My work had old computers that they were donating, so I took them and set them all up in our garage. We’d play games together. The kids loved it, and so did we.”

Prioritizing family while trying to build a business wasn’t easy, but over the years Ken has learned that it’s important. “As an entrepreneur, the buck stops with you. Things have to get done, and there are hundreds of families relying on you. But you have to realize that it’s still work and the main things of life are family and friendships—that’s what matters most. You have to set things aside. It is hard. It’s not sort of hard, it’s really hard. …Victory is how you end up, not the struggles you have along the way.”

Tips for Surviving Entrepreneurship

From the Wests:

  • Find a good support network of friends and family.
  • Marry well and be super committed to your marriage.
  • Partner well at work. Be able to count on your partners while you’re away from the office.
  • Take one day at a time. Know that you will get through it.
  • Find a ritual to connect with your spouse and children.
  • Go on vacations without connectivity to work.

From the Lehmans:

  • It takes a village. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
  • Lower your expectations. It’s OK if your house is messy.
  • Find a way to do something for yourself. Paul flies himself to business trips. Sarah practices yoga.
  • Get up early.
  • Remember that no amount of success compensates for failure at home.

From the Krogues:

  • Include your family in your world. Take them on business trips and to work functions.
  • Keep your marriage a priority.
  • Talk each other through the down times.
  • Don’t spend a lot of time travelling to and from work. Find a way to shorten your daily commute.

Marital Status Prior to Entrepreneurship
Single – 24.9%
Married – 69.9%
Divorced/Separated – 4.5%
Widowed – 0.7%
Source: Kaufman Foundation, The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur:Family Background and Motivation

Average Number of Children Living at Home when Starting a Business
0 – 40.3%
1 – 15.4%
2 – 28.0%
3 – 11.0%
4 – 3.4%
5 – 0.9%

Source: Kaufman Foundation, The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur: Family Background and Motivation

March Issue